Pandemic Repairman

My zayde (yiddish for grandfather) was a carpenter. Although I remember him, I never knew him very well because he died when I was not quite 10 years old, and I recall him as a mean man. Perhaps he scared me because I only remember him was after he had a stroke and/or dementia, although my father tells me that he was a mean man well before that.

My father was not a carpenter, but perhaps because his father was, or perhaps because he liked to save money, he was always trying to fix things. Sometimes his repairs worked out well. Other times, like when he wanted to save the $50 installation fee when my parents bought a new dishwasher and he flooded the kitchen, did not work out so well.

When I was a child, my father had me join him to help him repair things. In some ways this was good. I learned how to use tools and some basic principles about how things worked. However, the problem with my father’s approach was that he often asked me to do things that were well beyond my skill level, and were probably also beyond his skill level. In these instances, such as when he asked me to help him repair a copier in his office, the end result usually ended up with him yelling at me, leaving me in tears.

I moved out of my family’s home when I had just turned 17. I was determined to prove to myself that I could survive on my own, and for the most part, I have done fairly well. Part of survival includes fixing things when they break, especially when you cannot afford to call a professional to do the job. The lessons my father taught me about repairing things were both helpful and unhelpful. On one hand, I felt like I should always try to repair things before asking for help from a professional. On the other hand, without formal (or even much informal) training, my repairs often failed, leaving me feeling bad and sometimes with a bigger mess than when I started.

Fortunately, over time, and with no small amount of therapy, I have become better and figuring out which repairs I have the skills to accomplish and which really require professional help. As the pandemic settled in, I knew that my repair skills would be called to task, as calling in professionals would need to be reserved for genuine emergencies. This has been especially true since my family decided to shelter at our vacation home in rural Adams County, Wisconsin.

In the past few days, my repair skills have been tested. First, I noticed that our basement toilet flapper was not sealing well. Since we use well water here, I did not consider the repair urgent as we have no water bill. But it did answer my question as to why our water pump would occasionally switch on when we were not running any water.

Then, our upstairs toilet flapper also lost its seal and during my morning meditation, I was distracted not only by two running toilets, but by the water pump switching on 3 times during my half hour meditation. I realized it was time to fix both toilets.

Since Dollar General opened up next to our local hardware store in Oxford, Wisconsin, putting it out of business a couple of years later, I now need to drive about 20 miles to the hardware store in Adams. As the chain on my chainsaw needed sharpening, I brought it with me to have them sharpen it while I shopped for toilet flappers, drain cleaner and garden seeds. While I looked at the selection of toilet flappers, I realized that I made a basic mistake in that I failed to measure the size of the flushing hole in each toilet. For some inane reason, almost every one of the toilet flappers was labeled “universal,” which of course, made no sense, since they were different sizes. Since the store was a half an hour drive from our house, I bought the only flapper that was the same brand name as our toilet and another one that was the same size, assuming that both toilets (which are not identical) had the same size flush hole.

When I returned home, I could easily see that the flapper I purchased was way too big for the basement toilet, so I did not open the package as the hardware store said I could return it. Fortunately, I did buy the right one for the upstairs toilet, and I was able to repair it, although it took a few flushes to adjust the chain so it would flush properly.


Afterwards, I snaked out the shower drain and ran drain cleaner through it, so it drains much better.

The next day, after measuring the basement toilet flush hole, and to be doubly sure, bringing the old flapper with me, I returned to the hardware store, and exchanged the oversized toilet flapper I had purchased the day before for the correct size. After returning home, I fixed that one too, and our home is mercifully free of running toilets and the water pump only switches on when we are using water we need instead of wasting water from running toilets.

Oh, and that sharpened chainsaw chain? Yesterday, I put that back on my chainsaw and cleared my rutted road from the encroaching trees, bushes and bramble, as it needs fresh gravel and grading. I am now wise enough to know that laying and grading gravel on my road is well beyond my skill level, but my local road repairman, who also plows our road in the winter said he could do a much better job if I cleared the road. Here you can see one section of the cleared road, and a few of the ruts that he will fill next week.


What I did not anticipate, was that my son, who generally keeps his hair quite long, would decide he needed a haircut yesterday. Although, I have never cut anyone’s hair, I offered to help him as hair does grow back. At first, he thought he could do it on his own, but after he was finished, I urged him to let me even it out. For a couple of amateurs, it turned out pretty well. As you can see, Josh was pleased.


During the pandemic, all of our housekeeping and repair skills are being tested and stretched. Who knows what I may need to fix next?


For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Categories Coronavirus, Family, Pandemic, RepairTags , , ,

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